Movie Review: Ghostbusters

It's been about a week since I viewed the new Ghostbusters movie and I've been on the fence about writing up my thoughts on the film. On the one hand, I feel I have a strong understanding of movies, have written numerous movie reviews here on the blog as well as for other sites, and have an opinion, which is at least worth something. On the other hand, given the way I extol the Ghostbusters franchise and that I've been a champion for the all-woman lineup since it was announced, any plaudits I give it will be seen as biased. But, well, here we are.

Warning: Spoilers ahead so if you haven't seen it yet and plan to, proceed with caution.

The newest Ghostbusters centers on Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a quantum physicist at Columbia University. She's on the precipice of securing her career when it comes to light that she's a co-author of a wildly unfounded book on parapsychology, "Ghost From Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal". She goes to her old friend and colleague, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), to demand that she take down the book when she gets sucked into an actual ghost sighting. Her reaction to the phenomenon gets her fired from the university, leaving her to join Yates and Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) in creating a paranormal investigation business.

One of my biggest fears going in was that the humor wouldn't resonate with me. I hadn't seen much of Paul Feig's filmography and while I thought Bridesmaids was OK, I couldn't stand The Heat. On top of that, the only actor in Ghostbusters that I had any passing knowledge of was Melissa McCarthy (well, and Chris Hemsworth but I wasn't too focused on him). And even the trailers left much to be desired; though they didn't deserve the vitriol they received, the jokes they showed were luke warm at best.

But as everything unfolded on screen you see how it all works. There were a few rocky starts at the beginning with a couple of punchlines landing awkwardly, but as the movie progressed it started to gel. Even the "ho-hum" jokes from the trailer were funny in context. It has been a long time since I laughed so hard in a movie theater and I'm grateful for Ghostbusters for helping me do so.

What Ghostbusters gets right is the tone. While I hate to compare it to the 1984 classic, it is of course going to become inevitable so let's just go ahead and do that. Feig's Ghostbusters does not have the same tone as Reitman's, but that's not at all a criticism. The new Ghostbusters manages to find its own tone and stick with it. It doesn't try to emulate the magic of Aykroyd and Ramis's script, or the flawless dry humor of Bill Murray. Instead, Feig plays to the strengths of his four leading ladies (and one blonde beefcake) and amplifies their comedic talents. He finds a good balance between comedy and action and maintains that balance throughout most of the film. Granted, the humor took a back seat during the CG-filled finale but overall it still managed to fit some funny bits in there.

Presented without comment.

Ghostbusters sees a ton of celebrity cameos. Nearly the full cast from 1984 graces the screen, with the only holdout being Rick Moranis. While most of the cameos were a fun treat, like Bill Murray as the spectral skeptic or Ernie Hudson as Patty Tolan's (Leslie Jones) mortician uncle, the real disappointment was Dan Aykroyd's crabby cabbie. He spits his lines like he's had a stroke and delivers one of the most half-hearted nods to his original film possible. Don't get me wrong; I respect the hell out of Aykroyd and all the work he did to make this movie a reality, but his cameo made me cringe. I am willing to overlook it, though, based on the classy way they worked a Harold Ramis cameo into the film.

It's not all sunshine and ectoplasm, though. One of the movie's biggest flaws was the editing. Time seems to flow rather abruptly, both from scene to scene as well as overall. While it's evident that they cut a lot of unnecessary scenes to keep the pace of the film moving, in some instances it became jarring. There are things that progressed so quickly that it just felt like it defied logic. Two examples are the numerous ghost-busting inventions Holtzmann creates and how quickly they outfit the hearse as a functioning Ecto-1. I mean, I understand the need to skip over that stuff but it  interrupted the flow.

I also had some problems with the plot, mostly with the main antagonist, Rowan. While I felt that Neil Casey did well with the character, I don't think he was given much to work with. Rowan starts out as an awkward human who makes everyone around him uncomfortable and wants to bring about the end of humanity. It's a decent enough plot but doesn't ring with the same paranormal vibe that I'd come to expect from a Ghostbusters movie. Everything works, it all fits together fine enough, but just feels flat, not to mention a bit cliche given the whole "revenge for bullying" angle.

Though he is really creepy.
Want to talk about the other performances? Sure, let's do that.

Without mincing words, Leslie Jones was hilarious. She seemed to have the most fun with the script and delivered many of the film's best lines. I'd actually be curious to know how much of what she said was scripted and what was improvised because her character just felt so real and vivid. She also played an important part in keeping the rest of the team grounded. As the only non-scientist of the group, her inclusion kept them from going off on techno-babble tangents and made sure their explanations were to the point and in layman's terms so that the audience could follow along.

Melissa McCarthy's Abby is the heart of the team. As one of the largest named stars, McCarthy has a fair share of screen time. Her humor is strong and the script really plays to one of her strengths: physical comedy. Many of her scenes rely on her getting tossed around, like in the proton pack testing scene, which McCarthy plays with aplomb. Unfortunately, I found her to be the weakest of the group but even that isn't much of a criticism of her, just a validation of the strength of the rest of the team.

I was actually fairly surprised by Kristin Wiig. As I haven't seen many of her movies, I wasn't familiar with her brand of comedy but she turned out to be one of my favorites. She mostly plays the straight (wo)man to everyone else but the times that she does stand out, such as her awkward flirting with receptionist Kevin, she manages to steal the scene.

Everyone seems to have fallen in love with Kate McKinnon's Holtzmann, and rightfully so. Holtzmann oozed personality, all thanks to a masterfully nuanced performance. Her odd mannerisms and awkward affectation made her memorable. She does have a few stilted one-liners but most of her humor is solid.

But the biggest surprise was Chris Hemsworth. As a big time action star/demi-god, audiences don't necessarily think of him as a comedic actor. His timing was impeccable, his delivery superb and he displayed a knack for dry humor that seemed almost supernatural. He remained deadpan throughout the entirety of the film and offered some of the movie's biggest laughs. With how excited I was to see a team of women Ghostbusters, I was disappointed that the man outshone them, but delighted that the movie was as fun as it was.

Since I've rambled on much more than I intended, here's a quick Lightning Round.
  • There were two Chekov's Gun type solutions in the film, which I didn't quite care for but they worked and that's all that matters.
  • I liked the nods to two hit horror movies (The Exorcist and Poltergeist), both of which fit the theme of the movie.
  • There was a lot of dancing in it, even with the big Hemsworth dance number cut from the end. I'm not sure why. There just was.
  • I loved the PKE meter. It reminded me of the one from The Real Ghostbusters.
  • While I found the CG to be outstanding, my favorite effect was Gertrude Aldridge, which was done using practical effects. The way the blue glow reflected off her face was creepy as hell. Even the slime-spewing moment startled me despite the fact that I knew it was coming. 
  • I was floored by the final action sequence. Though so much more dynamic than anything in the original films, it had a great flow, coherent action and awesome CGI.

And that's pretty much all I have. So was Ghostbusters a perfect film? No, not at all but it did have many genuinely funny moments and a great cast portraying lively characters. Wrap that up in a blanket of well directed action and you have the makings of a good summer movie. If pressed for a numerical rating, I'd give it a 7 out of 10 (on the PKE meter). Not quite burying the needle but it's a fun, energetic movie with a ton of laughs and a lot of heart.

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